There’s no debating it: The digital world is a landmine of viruses, malware, and ransomware. What’s more, if you have a digital addiction to USB flash drives, then the likelihood of you becoming a victim increases dramatically, as your flash drive passes those viruses and malware from one computer to the next.

Contracting a digital virus take seconds. In the time it takes to plug a USB flash drive into a host system and open the drive’s file folder, you’ve been infected. Even worse, you might not even know about it until you are confronted with the ransomware screen of death – which locks down your entire system – or weeks later when you begin to notice all sorts of malfeasance related to your computers, networks, social media accounts, digital wallets, and more.

Here, then, are five ways to protect yourself from a USB flash drive attack.

1. Stop Attacks Before They Happen

USB FireWall and USB Immunizer are free tools that prevent your computer from running programs stored on USB flash drives. USB FireWall is a very simple Windows tool that monitors your computer and detects all files that attempt to launch when you plug a new USB device into your computer. USB Immunizer disables autorun-related threats before they access the computer. Once installed, it constantly watches for newly inserted USB storage devices and immunizes them on the fly. If you accidentally plug in an infected USB drive that has not been immunized, the computer will not auto-execute the piece of malware located on the USB storage device.

2. Regularly Scan Your Computer with Antivirus Software

Those nasty viruses that infect your USB drive come from somewhere – and that somewhere is your host computer. So, before inserting your USB flash drive into any computer’s USB port, make sure the host is not infected. If it is, then your flash drive is likely to become infected, too, and the next time you plug that flash drive into a USB port, well, it won’t be good news.

3. Reformat Your USB Flash Drive

If you need to bring back to health an infected USB flash drive, you can try formatting the drive, which will thoroughly wipe all the data – including any viruses. However, before you try this maneuver, make sure your host computer is protected by USB FireWall or USB Immunizer.

4. Write Protect Your USB Flash Drive

There are several ways to enable or disable write-protection of your USB flash drive. Depending on your device, you can use a hardware switch to toggle write-protection or change the read-only settings for the device through the operating system. As long as you write protect a drive, no data can be written to it, surely including the viruses.

5. Invest in a Portable Antivirus Application

A portable antivirus application, which can be installed directly on your USB flash drive. These applications allow you to scan the data on the host PC and your personal data on the USB flash drive, ensuring no infections are present. The best free portable antivirus programs include:

5 Additional USB Flash Drive Safety Tips

  1. Keep personal and work-related USB sticks separately.
  2. If you don’t know where the USB drive came from, don’t use it.
  3. Occasionally change and update your USB keys.
  4. If you really need to get information from an unknown USB source, plug it into some sort of buffer device and scan it for malware.
  5. If you have already plugged in a suspicious USB flash drive, immediately disconnect from the Internet to prevent any downloads, and restart your device.

One Last Piece of Advice

To reduce the chance that a rogue USB flash drive will bring your organization to its knees, it is a good idea to install physical port locks on all computer and network ports throughout your company. These nifty little devices cost as little as a couple bucks each but have been proven to effectively protect networks from malicious USB flash drives – and other removable media.